By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
All animal enthusiasts on the Washington College campus should take note of the arrival of Fetching Freedom, a Student Interest Group that aims to lend a helping hand—or paw—to give back to those in need.
“Students will have the opportunity to apply to foster a service puppy-in-training for one year—a great opportunity for students to learn about service dogs and take part in improving people’s lives,” said junior Shannon Finnegan, president of the organization.
Fetching Freedom aims to provide students with both the joy of an animal companion and the responsibility of training the puppy to become a service dog.
“SIG members will host their puppy for one calendar year, providing the first stage of training in the pup’s service journey. They will help to socialize the puppy and get it used to all sorts of situations and activities surrounding day-to-day life, all the while providing the basic training associated with dog behavior,” said junior Jared Kovacs, secretary.
“It is important to distinguish that these are service dogs in training, not therapy dogs. An emotional support animal or therapy dog just comforts a person and while that job is important, extensive training is not required. Most of the dogs on campus right now are emotional support animals,” said group advisor Tya Pope, assistant dean for Curricular Enrichment.
The SIG will begin accepting puppy raiser applications in the fall of 2019. Kovacs and Finnegan will raise a puppy together this summer to help refine the application and training process for new members.
“While anyone can join the club, not everyone will get a dog. There will be an extensive application and interview process,” Pope said.
According to Finnegan, her decision to found this organization on campus stemmed from a long-standing interest in service.
“I had been thinking about this program for years. I learned about Fidos for Freedom through a family friend, and I was absolutely astonished at how these dogs were capable of doing so much and affecting people so greatly,” she said.
Fidos for Freedom will be the club’s parent organization, and will provide both the puppies and the training regimen.
“Their ethics regarding puppy sourcing is a major part of why we chose to work with them; Fidos does their best to first find dogs from shelters before turning to private breeders, giving the shelter pups a home and a job, and eventually a loving partner for life whom they can help every day,” Kovacs said.
After the puppies complete their year of training at WC, they will enter the second phase of Fido’s program, which takes place in the Maryland state prison system. The puppies are partnered with an inmate who trains the dog for an additional eight to 12 months.
Finnegan believes that WC is a great place to train service dogs for a number of reasons.
“The College is such an incredible atmosphere for dogs; especially when it comes to socialization. The town events alongside the college community make it a fantastic environment for training,” she said.
Kovacs also explained how students involved with the program benefit when it comes to helping those around them.
“The great part about the SIG is that it gives students an opportunity to get involved in something bigger than themselves. These dogs will be going on to do amazing things and will change the life of their eventual service partner,” he said.
Finnegan and Kovacs encourage all students to participate, especially those who consider themselves animal-lovers who are interested in serving the community.
“By joining our SIG, students are going to be directly involved in changing the life of somebody in need for the better. Plus, they will have the possibility of providing a loving home and a purpose for a dog who might not have been able to experience that beforehand,” Kovacs said.
Interested students should contact Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org and be on the lookout for more information at the beginning of next semester.